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Chinatown, Then and Now

Chinatown Then

Toronto’s first Chinatown has changed substantially from the late nineteenth century when it encompassed only a few city blocks in the downtown core. Now of course, the GTA is home to many Chinatowns including those in Scarborough, Markham, Richmond Hill and Mississauga.

Toronto's first Chinatown (1878-1960) was the area around York and Elizabeth Streets; with the construction of City Hall in the 1950s, many Chinese shops and homes were forced to move west to the Dundas and Spadina area as shown in the map. Now of course, the GTA is home to many newer Chinatowns including those in Scarborough, Markham, Richmond Hill and Mississauga.

From My Chinatown, used with permission of Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, 2010

People of Chinese origin comprised less than one percent of the city's 630,000 residents in 1931. Much of the small Chinatown district was demolished to make way for the new City Hall.

Elizabeth Street, 1931, W. F. G. Godfrey. Toronto Public Library, TRL.

Like other large Canadian urban centres, Toronto attracted its share of Chinese immigrants historically, but only a small number of jobs were open to Chinese people in 1900. Immigrants from China were responsible for around 40 laundries, a restaurant, two dry goods and vegetable stores and several tea shops in early Toronto. The Lem Brothers Laundry at 1728 Kingston Road (on right) in Birch Cliff advertised, "Goods called for and delivered."

Toronto Transit Commission Archives. TTC 6229. From The People of Scarborough by Barbara Myrvold, City of Scarborough Public Library Board, 1997.

Chinatown stores were regular gathering places for the community, 1940.

From Chinatown by Paul Yee, used with permission from James Lorimer and Company.

Another general goods store on Elizabeth Street, in Toronto in 1937.

From Chinatowns; Towns Within Cities in Canada by David Chuenyan Lai, 1988, used with permission.

Other "Chinatowns" eventually sprung up around the city, this one near Broadview and Gerrard. East Chinatown is not as big as the original one but it is growing rapidly.

From Chinatowns; Towns Within Cities in Canada by David Chuenyan Lai, 1988, used with permission

In addition to the punitive 'head tax' on immigrants of Chinese origin, all Chinese Canadians had to register with the government and carry a card like this one – even eight-year-old Tom Lock.

From Chinatown by Paul Yee, used with permission from James Lorimer and Company.

This building originally served as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, then the Christadelphian Church, and finally the Chinese Church in 1913. It was on Richmond St. W. on the north side, east of York St.

Stuart Logan Thompson. Toronto Reference Library Canadian Historical Picture Collection.

Fourteen nationalities are represented in this group school photo taken at York St. School at the north-west corner of York and Richmond.

York St. Public School,1923, Creator: Unknown. Toronto Reference Library Canadian Historical Picture Collection

Chinatown Now

In some ways, Toronto's Chinatown has not changed dramatically over the years – people can still live and conduct almost all of their business without ever leaving this town within a city.

West on Dundas | Doug Mo | FlickrEast on Dundas | Doug Mo | Flickr Used with permission and thanks to Doug Mo.
Chinatown, Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Max Lent | FlickrChinatown, Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Max Lent | FlickrChinatown, Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Max Lent | Flickr Used with permission and thanks to Max Lent.
Nov26'05 014 | Henry Chan | FlickrIMG_4650 | Henry Chan | FlickrNov26'05 007 | Henry Chan | Flickr Used with permission and thanks to Henry Chan.

The local Chinese business community in cooperation with the city of Toronto, Toronto Public Library and other businesses built this Toronto Chinese Gate (Zhong Hua Men gate) at Broadview and Gerrard in 2008/9. Surprisingly, it was the first of its kind in Toronto.

Used with permission and thanks to Micah Zierer-Clyke.